Off B’way gets ‘Ham’ handed

Uptown 'Guys and Dolls' set to open

The critically acclaimed “Little Ham” goes to the John Houseman, with an Off Broadway opening set for Sept. 12.

Producer Eric Krebs has been with the Harlem gangster musical since 1986, and in December produced a limited engagement of the tuner, by arrangement with Amas Musical Theater, at the 99-seat Hudson Guild Theater. Creatives on the show include librettist Dan Owens, composer-lyricist Judd Woldin, lyricist Richard Engquist and director Eric Riley.

The musical, which has been called an uptown “Guys and Dolls,” drew critical raves in its 2001 Off Off Broadway engagement, which produced talk of a possible commercial run. Krebs capitalized a Broadway production of “Little Ham” at $3.5 million. Off Broadway at the 287-seat Houseman, he is producing for $900,000 with a 14-person cast and a five-member band.

Out of tune

Little tuners staged Off Broadway have had a difficult year of it. “Bat Boy,” “Tick, Tick … Boom!” and “The Summer of ’42” lost all or most of their initial investment. The jury remains out on the recently opened “Last 5 Years,” with only “Love, Janis” possibly settling in for a profitable run.

Krebs is aware of the odds. “I have budgeted this within an inch of my life,” said the producer. “If we sell all the seats — and unfortunately there is only one price, $65 — we’ll do just fine. And as I am fond of saying, if we don’t sell all the tickets then we don’t need a bigger theater anyway.”

Krebs said he and Eric Riley were about to start the casting process; in this case, it should be an easy one. “The fairy-tale evolution of this piece is that all (the) people we cast in the showcase, at no pay, will end up being offered roles for the Off Broadway production.”

Return to ‘Tru’

Truman Capote via “Tru” will make his grand return to Gotham.

Jay Presson Allen’s one-person play, which originally starred Robert Morse and played on Broadway, will go the Off Broadway route next fall under the auspices of Lewis Allen, the scribe’s husband, who produced the original 1989 production with David Brown. As before, Jay Presson Allen will direct.

So who’s Tru in 2002?

“Do you have a moment?” asked Lewis Allen. “Last year, this fellow from Wichita, Kan., sent us a videotape of his performance in the play. We liked it so much that Jay directed him in another production there, at the Scottish Rites Theater. He was wonderful. We talked about doing a tour, then decided to put it on here in New York first. A couple of companies want to book a tour.”

The actor’s name: Tom Frye. “He looks just like Truman,” says Allen. “And he’s never done anything outside of Wichita.”

Broadway comeback

Over at the soon-to-open “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” newcomer Gavin Creel is due to make a comeback even before he’s made his Broadway debut.

Felled with a knee injury at the March 23 matinee, Creel left the show midperformance, with understudy Brandon Wardell taking over the romantic male lead of Jimmy Smith. On Wednesday, after minor surgery, doctors pronounced Creel OK to return to “Millie” late next week.

The new musical will open April 18 at the Marquis Theater.

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